Saturday, July 28, 2012

Backpacks and Mopeds

Once in a while (which is probably a little too often from my boss's view), the only respectable thing a girl can do is to hand in a leave application, grab a backpack, and go on an adventure.

Yang Shuo, nestled in its mountainous layers and idyllic streams, was the place.

We first inserted ourselves as a surprise foreigners' musical tribute in a very traditional wedding.

Met friendly Miao tribesmen who were out for a casual stroll in all their splendor.

Explored the rocky slopes and the lush countrysides with steamed pork buns and busting plantains squirreled away in the hiding spaces of our rented mopeds.

Wandered into the occasional farmer's home as he husked outside, wiping his sweaty brow in the midday sun.

Jumped off bridges to splash the passengers on the bamboo rafts.

Fished with Cormorants, webbed-feet birds that torpedoed into the dark waters and brought back fish because they couldn't swallow them with the strings tied around their necks.

Held back the giggles as a hundred "kissing fish" ate at the dead skin on our feet.

Squeezed in work in between everything, till 2 am or electricity shortages.

And rode a 22 hour train, hard seat, back home, with little old ladies leaning in for pillow comfort.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

On Fire

The man clicked to the nth powerpoint slide. "They were trapped on their floor because the fire escape door was jammed. 23 casualties." We scribbled furiously, jotting down reminders to our management to check stairwells. 

Next slide. "Fire in the middle of the night. Young woman ran back for her valuable documents. Disfigured face. Ayah. Who would want to marry her now?"

Next. "Third degree burn on a child. He would be wearing long sleeves for the rest of his life. Such a shame he wasn't a girl - at least girls had excuses to wear sleeves to stay white, but him?" He shook his head in disapproving pity.

My colleagues and I sat, eyes transfixed to the clicker in his hand, watching his thumb press down with ruthless efficiency to summon yet another set of horrific photos of fire victims. He was part of our office building management and he was in our conference room, gesticulating smoke, fire, heat! wildly in the air, as part of our free Avoiding Fire Hazards workshop. After an hour of cautionary tales and dramatic disfiguration photos, we were glued, traumatized, and desperate to receive the balm of instructions to be {beautiful} survivors.

"You, being on the 9th floor of our office building, are special. You have good odds of surviving any fire that will engulf this building if you do what I say."

He described how most of the time, fire fighters could not get to all the floors to rescue trapped people. So the solution? Save yourself by climbing out of the window.

He bent over and struggled to pull out something heavy underneath the table. He heaved and threw it onto the table. "Do yourself a favor and buy this 40 feet rope. Today, I will give you the good friend price. 500 RMB (~80 USD) only. Better yet, the first two people to buy one will get a discount. Isn't your life worth at least that much?"

When we all looked at him, shocked into silence at his sudden sales pitch, he leaned in and whispered conspiratorially, "The 10th floor people will never hear this workshop. They are just a little too high for the rope to reach the ground. So will you take full advantage of your geographical location?"

A sudden whimper. Shuffling in purses. Our marketing lady pulled out her wallet. She looked around sheepishly, "I have a son to think of."

Our office did not have a lot of heavy furniture. I wonder what she would actually tie her rope to when/ if the time came.

Making Do for July Fourth

While J was back in the States hugging the red white and blue flag to replenish his American juices, a history major, a halfie, and an Asian American girl with a Communist family legacy got together to create our own July Fourth.

We didn't have a picnic because our fridges were empty, a parade because we couldn't book all the Primary kids from Church to march for us, or fireworks because the Chinese invented it. But we made a program that celebrated America from the patriotic to the obscure.

Here was our program:

Native American beginnings: Interpretive dancing to Colors of the Wind in Pocahontas. I was flinging my arms wildly to do Grandmother Willow justice.

Independence War:

Civil War: Ben recited the Gettysburg Address

{Super Fast Forward}

Isolationist Period: America Uun-Gah-Ha!

Depression: Everybody sucking on ice cubes (because we couldn't afford ice-cream in Hoovervilles)

WWII: Epic war scenes from Wolverine

JFK: Marilyn Monroe's Happy Birthday (I do a pretty good imitation . . . all except the sexy part)

Civil Rights: MLK's I Have a Dream

Pop: Thriller

21st Century polarized politics: West Wing clip

Sept. 11th: Share our memories of that fateful day and what it means to us to be Americans

Oddly enough, I felt more patriotic after our silly historical reenactment than after gnawing on corn on the corn at a July Fourth barbecue. Must have been all the Un-gah-has.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Part-time model

A man with long, tied back, silky hair and strong black-rimmed glasses touched my arm and stopped me right when the cold air from the mall blasted my face. "Hey miss, have you ever considered being a part-time model?"

"Not interested."

I walked away briskly. He kept following me, saying that he's a photographer for catalogues and that he liked my sharp chin, my small waist, my accentuated cheeks, my straight posture, my . . .

"Not interested."

"Why not?"

I didn't know what to say. Because the idea of being made up and fussed over and then treated like a clothes hanger, with people stripping off your clothes for you to minimize time wasted during changing, did not sound like a great weekend plan?

Capitalizing on that moment of hesitation, he motioned me forward, always staying a step ahead on me,   turning around constantly  -- "Just a few shots first. We need your info. Our office is just around the corner. Come, come. You better work on walking in heels though."

I tried to explain that not interested was really not interested. I shook my head emphatically, dangling my weighty Tibetan coral earrings for dramatic effect. But somehow, my legs kept moving forward, narrowly tripping on the uneven sidewalk. Perhaps it's because I've always been terrible at saying no, very firmly, and I didn't want to raise my voice on the streets to make sure that he heard me.

And because  - and really not that deep down - it's just a little bit complimentary to be asked to be photographed when I've always been the nice sister of the beautiful girls.

Ten minutes later, sitting in front of the chief photographer for an interview about my previous modeling experiences, measurements, weekend schedules, blah blah blah, I finally felt it. How silly I was for being easily flattered by an offer to be objectified. How I would find it absolutely mindless to be spending my saturdays playing dress up in other people's clothes. And how the thrill of strangers complimenting you excessively for your looks really wore off quick.

So I thanked them and walked out.


Of course, this clip from the Flight of the Concords reminded me that being invited to be a part-time model probably wasn't the best compliment either.

Thursday, July 5, 2012


As my four inch heels hit the train platform, I nearly swore. But to use abbreviations while saying that "D*@#. China is so hot right now" will be a grossly understated injustice.

I breathed deep but came out unsatisfied. The humidity and the sweltering heat combined had my lungs screaming out for more oxygen or, as my coffee mug-toting, semi-bald, high school physics teacher would say,"Ox-why-jen, kids." The air molecules were lethargic, weighed down by the sour odor of bodies pressed against each other to get to the front of the line.

An odd case of deja vu reminded me of a shower I took years ago. I had stripped down, kicking my swim suit to the corner, while stepping into my friend's new shower. Beside the colorful shampoo bottles, there was a neat row of buttons. I pressed one. The shower encirclement locked with a sound of definity. Another button. Water jetted out. Too hot. With shampoo in my eyes, I punched another button. Blasts of hot and cold hit me from all directions. The steam rose. My lungs strained as I groped for a way to unlock the showers. For a brief moment, my impulse was to press my lips against the seam of the shower doors, in hope for a faulty job, for a crack through which I could just suck air. But embarrassment, heightened by the vulnerability of my soapy nakedness, forced me away from kissing the shower wall and back to slamming buttons.

And it was that same socialized decorum that prevented me from yanking the cigarette away from the man who lit up right in front of me in a snaking taxi line. I already had a hard time breathing in the humidity and the smoke simply suffocated me. I coughed dramatically in protest. He turned around, looking at me appraisingly from the curve of my shoulders down to my santa red toes, and puffed his huff at my face, letting the lazy entrails of smoke entangle my hair and smother me with a cruel deliberateness.

I directed my intense glare at his unkempt, thinning strands of hair that hung on desperately to fading manhood. I mentally cursed all semi-bald men, who either rubbed balloons on your once-silky smooth long hair to demonstrate static electricity or shamelessly cut through the line just to end up in front of you, smoking up a factory and parading the fact that you were a pushover on two counts.

So channeling maximum dramatic charm, I raised my hand, palm outward, to my forehead, and pretended to faint.

When the people nearby gave him the looks, he disgustedly threw his cig down and grounded it with his black heel, all the while muttering about the trouble that women bring.